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'Upside Down': Jim Sturgess and the making of dual gravity

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Image credit: Millennium Entertainment
Image Credit: Alan Markfield

Filmmakers have played with gravity for long time, from Fred Astaire’s 1951 ceiling dance to the ill-fated space mission of Apollo 13 to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hallway fight in Inception. But when Argentine director Juan Solanas set out to make his romantic fantasy film Upside Down, he was presented with the challenge of filming a world not with zero gravity, but dual gravity.

Upside Down, which hit U.S. theaters this weekend, takes place on two planets that share the same atmosphere. Separate gravitational forces keep inhabitants of each on their own planet. The idea came to Solanas (who also wrote the script) as the image of two mountains facing each other, one jutting up from the ground and one down from the sky; a man on the lower mountain looks up and sees a woman standing on the other mountain. That image became the initial meeting place for Upside Down’s star-crossed lovers, Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst), who are kept apart by the governmental laws of both their worlds – and the law of gravity.

Creating a world with dual gravity where Adam attempts to visit Up Top (the richer planet that makes up the sky of his poorer Down Below) presented a slew of technical challenges to Solanas and his crew.

Sturgess had a lot of wire work to do in the film, often joined by Dunst. A few scenes had the two actors strapped together on wires that created the illusion of near-flight when Eden sits atop Adam’s shoulders, and the two characters bounce around Down Below much like they’re on the moon, as their gravitational forces nearly balance each other out. Sturgess found that shooting those scenes was a great way to get acquainted with his costar. “Because it’s quite technical, there’ll be long periods of time where you’re just stuck together, and you’re left hanging while everyone else is busy doing their business. So you get to know each other pretty quickly,” Sturgess says.

Dunst was already a wire-work veteran, from films like Spider-Man, in which audiences saw the now-iconic upside-down kiss that preceded some inverted smooching in Upside Down. The less-experienced Sturgess spent a month training on the wires — since he has more gravity-defying scenes — and recalls a steep learning curve. “It was a lot, lot harder than you can imagine when you watch it because it’s all set on timers,” the British actor says. “You can’t jump too early ’cause then you jump and the wire kind of pulls you. You can’t go too late because suddenly it looks like it yanks you up in the air. It’s very hard to make it not look like [you’re] being pulled around by wires.”

Adam and Eden find the curved rock face of the mountain where they meet to be the perfect place to rendezvous out of the sight of government authorities determined to keep them apart (see photo above). One scene depicts them clinging to each other, rotating in the air beneath that rock. Solanas said he considered shooting that scene underwater, and he also debated whether to have his team construct a rotisserie-like contraption to rotate the two actors, but “that doesn’t look so romantic,” Sturgess pointed out. Ultimately, that scene was shot with the mountain set reconstructed on its side; Sturgess and Dunst were back on the wires, which had them hanging from the ceiling, rotating them vertically.

NEXT PAGE: Sturgess’ most challenging shot and the new technology that was created for the film